History & Traditions

Calling All Humans – Pick up the Phone!

What would you rate as the single most important thing in your life?

Family, your passion/hobby, right? Of course! So what would rate second to this? What do you spend most of your time doing? What would you find hard to live without?indexFor most of us, especially the young, a truthful answer might be their Smart phone. Why? Because it is has become the primary means of communication, in daily life. And humans, being a gregarious, social bunch, thrive on communication. Whether one is verbal or non-verbal, whatever language one speaks, communication is essential, vital and pretty impossible to live without.


Whilst the PC has given us a global communication and information portal, the Smart phone is now our PC. The smartphone’s portability gives us that freedom to communicate wherever we are, but also but the power to source information worldwide, when we want it. Even in third world countries, children easily access information from anywhere in the world, without being in ‘cooee’ of a school or library, (provided there’s a cellular communication tower nearby)! Fantastic, isn’t it?


But it has its downsides too. Smartphones makes us information rich and time poor.  Smartphones mean work can go with you, 24/7 and may lead to extra stress. For some children, smartphones give bullying a new dimension, unless they are strong and bold enough to turn the phone off. To be offline or ‘disconnected’ with the world today, and all the latest happenings, is a concept totally alien to youth and could even brand one an eccentric or a hippie!


For me, the Smartphone means that checking my emails and notifications from Facebook, Pinterest, WordPress and other social media platforms, has become a fixed part of my daily routine, almost akin to a ritual. This information overload and constant switching between apps, drains my focus and my concentration levels. It makes time vanish and is so insidious, it can even make me late for work!

holiday-pics-before-vs-after-smartphonesHow frustrated can we become if our battery dies, we discover there is no internet connection, or wi-fi is horrendously slow, right? In an evolutionary sense, our brains are hard-wired to seek new information, so this led me to thinking: is this incredible invention a powerful freedom-giving communication device, capable of fulfilling all our information needs, or simply an electronic panacea, capable of dizzying, visual and auditory enslavement? Does it bring happiness, contentment, or stress and anguish, or perhaps even, a little of each?

smartphoneDid the inventors of the telephone, glimpse for but a moment, the addictive nature of  facilitating global communication and the smart phone’s omnipresent infiltration in modern life? Cartoonists, it seems, had a small inkling as early as 1907!!  Punch Magazine published a cartoon entitled “Predictions for 1907” in which he showed a man and a woman in London’s Hyde Park, each separately engaged in gambling and dating, on wireless telephony equipment.[Source: Wiki] And Karl Arnold drew this visionary cartoon about wireless telephone use, in 1926!

Who was it, I pondered, that actually, started this juggernaut of communication? Generally, I’ve got a good grasp of trivia, so I was initially thinking/blaming Edison? He certainly contributed to the phone, inventing the carbon microphone, but the electric light was his brainchild. It was really Alexander Graham Bell, wasn’t it? Well, yes, but not exactly. Even in its infancy, this communication device was so enticing, so highly sought after, the person who would clam the title of inventor of the telephone became dogged in controversy. I decided to investigate, a little further, if for no other reason, than so I could point the finger of blame at his/her feet.

Memorial to Alexander Graham Bell and the Telephone

My Smart phone told me that Bell has widely been regarded “as the ‘inventor’ of the telephone outside of Italy, where Meucci was championed as its inventor. Meucci, Manzetti, and Gray have each offered fairly precise tales of a contrivance, whereby Bell actively stole the invention of the telephone from their specific inventor. [I] Mmm, it seems complicated, I thought. More reading and sorting facts, was required, so I constructed a rough timeline of events to help my understanding.

Timeline of Events

1843 – Antonio Manzetti first mooted the idea of a “speaking telegraph”, or telephone, but doesn’t pursue the idea

1860 – Antonio Meucci demonstrates his apparatus “teletrofono”,  in New York in 1860[2]

1864 – to give his automaton the power of speech, Manzetti is reported to have invented his speaking telegraph –some reports state that he didn’t actually get it working until the following year. Although he didn’t patent his device, it is reported in Paris,[3] and likely publicized, in the press, around the world.

1865 Scottish immigrant, Alexander Graham Bell visits Antonio Manzetti and examines his “device”

1871 – Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci submitted a patent caveat for his telephonic device to the U.S. Patent Office, but there was no mention of electromagnetic transmission of vocal sound.

1874 Elisha Gray develops a harmonic telegraph apparatus using vibrating reeds that could transmit musical tones, but not intelligible speech.

1874 – December – Gray demonstrated his device to the public at Highland Park First Presbyterian Church.

1876 – February 11 Gray included a diagram for a telephone in his notebook.

1876 – February  14 – Gray lodged a Patent caveat at Us Patent Office shortly after it opened, a few hours before Bell’s application, but Gray’s application remained at the bottom of the in-basket until that afternoon.*

1876 February 24 – Bell traveled to Washington DC. Nothing is entered in his lab notebook until his return to Boston on March 7.

1876 – March 7 – Bell obtains patent for “apparatus for electromagnetic transmission of  vocal or other sounds by undulatory electric current”* (see more on this below)

1876 –  March 8 – Bell and Watson, his assistant, finally got his model to work and recorded this an experiment in their lab notebook, with a diagram similar to that of Gray’s patent caveat.

1876 August 10 – The first long distance telephone call made by Bell to his assistant located  some 10 miles (16 km) apart.

1877 – Hungarian engineer Tivadar Puskás develops an idea for a telephone exchange which built by the Bell Telephone Company in Boston

1908 – a Professor Albert Jahnke and the Oakland Transcontinental Aerial Telephone and Power Company developed a wireless telephone. They were accused of fraud and the charge was then dropped, but they do not seem to have proceeded with production[4]

1918 German railroad system tested wireless telephony on military trains

1926 Telephone service in trains of the Deutsche Reichsbahn and the German mail service on the route between Hamburg and Berlin offered to 1st class travelers.[5]

1930s – Telephone sets developed combining the bell and induction coil with the desk set, obviating a separate ringer box

1950 “Hexagonal Cells” early radio telephones created by AT&T and Bell Labs

1973 – Martin Cooper placed the first cell phone call (with a 1G mobile phone)

1991 –  the first GSM network (Radiolinja) launched in Finland

1993   IBM Simon introduced the world’s first smart phone. It was a mobile phone, pager, fax machine, and PDA all rolled into one

2002 – US Congress recognises a little-known mechanical genius, Antonio Meucci, as a father of modern communications, 113 years after his death.[6]

2009 – 1.26 billion fixed-line subscribers and 4.6 billion mobile telephone subscribers [Source:Wiki]

Billions of subscribers!!!! The proliferation of this fantastic invention is so widespread, it permeates many aspects of life, today.  Will books and television sets soon only be found in a museum, I thought? When I start to think like this, I had to chide myself and remember that no one would not be reading this post without the use of telephone technology!!


It is clear the history of the telephone is nearly as complicated as the device itself,  involving a variety of people, patents, lawsuits, and finally, legislation. It is ironic to think that if Gray’s patent application was time-stamped or lodged with smart phone technology, he would be the classified as the original inventor of the smart phone’s precursors. Did it come down to who had the better lawyer or legal advice? Well, only until the US government legislated in this regard, in 2002. Who do you regard as the original inventor and how much do your let the smart phone dictate how you spend your time? That is Something to ponder about.

*** Additional Notes

The water transmitter described in Gray’s caveat was strikingly similar to the experimental telephone transmitter tested by Bell on March 10, 1876, a fact which raised questions about whether Bell (who knew of Gray) was inspired by Gray’s design or vice versa. Although Bell did not use Gray’s water transmitter in later telephones, evidence suggests that Bell’s lawyers may have obtained an unfair advantage over Gray.[7]
It is alleged that Bell bribed a patent examiner, Zenas Wilber, not only into processing his application before Gray’s, but allowing a look at his rival’s designs before final submission. Bell’s application was filed shortly before noon on February 14 by Bell’s lawyer who requested that the filing fee be entered immediately onto the cash receipts blotter and Bell’s application was taken to the Examiner immediately. Late in the afternoon, Gray’s caveat was entered on the cash blotter and was not taken to the Examiner until the following day. The fact that Bell’s filing fee was recorded earlier than Gray’s led to the myth that Bell had arrived at the Patent Office earlier.[8] Bell was in Boston on February 14 and did not know this happened until later. Gray later abandoned his caveat and did not contest Bell’s priority.
In a letter of March 2, 1877, Bell admitted to Gray that he was aware Gray’s caveat “had something to do with the vibration of a wire in water [the variable resistance breakthrough that made the telephone practical] — and therefore conflicted with my patent.”[9] At this time, Gray’s caveat was still confidential. In 1879, Bell testified under oath that he discussed “in a general way” Gray’s caveat with patent examiner Zenas Fisk Wilber.[10] When patent examiners investigate possible interferences between applications, it was not uncommon for them to ask questions of the inventors directed at the places of possible interference.
In a affidavit from April 8, 1886, Wilber admitted that he was an alcoholic who owed money to his longtime friend and Civil War Army companion Marcellus Bailey, Bell’s lawyer. Wilber says that after he issued the suspension on Bell’s patent application, Bailey came to visit. In violation of Patent Office rules, he told Bailey about Gray’s caveat and told his superiors that Bell’s patent application had arrived first. During Bell’s visit to Washington, “Prof. Bell was with me an hour when I showed him the drawing [of Gray’s caveat] and explained Gray’s methods to him.” He says Bell returned at 2pm to give him a hundred-dollar bill.[11]

Image sourced from google images!